While studying abroad in Bilbao, I have had the honor of visiting my “homeland.” All of my ama’s (mom’s) family is from the Basque country from the provinces of Gipuzkoa and Bizkaia. Bilbao is the capital of the province of Bizkaia and yes, I have been visiting with ALL the branches of my family. While abroad, I am introduced as a student or a family member from the US but sometimes people say I am Basque or they say I have a Basque family. To some, I’m Basque. To others, I’m American. Even my host parents don’t always refer to themselves as Basque. I’m here now to tell you what may identify some as a Basque though to try and clear up this confusion of “nationality.”
The Basques have had the stereotypes for having dark hair, brown or green eyes, skin that is between fair and dark. That does not define someone as Basque now but those with blonde hair normally are not from a purely Basque family. Normally having a Basque surname marks you as Basque. Having a Basque surname is one of the common factors that people can agree on.
Being here in Bilbao, I’ve appreciated the warm welcome from ISA, The University of Deusto, and even the locals. To receive a warm welcome, you should use Castellano (Spanish) or Euskara (Basque). You do not need to be fluent in either but if you have some Spanish under your belt and you use courtesy vocabulary of Basque, you can go far in Euskal Herria. Not everyone that lives in Euskadi identifies themselves as Basque since they don’t speak Basque. If you would like to learn Basque, Euskadi is known for their programs here that can teach you Basque. There are a few places you can take classes in the US, but it is best to learn a new language in the country that uses said language on a regular basis.
To be Basque is to enjoy the culture and customs that the Basques have to offer. Grab a pintxo and some vino tinto or txakoli, take a stroll around the city or the beautiful mountain regions. Go out until 6 in the morning with some good friends, visit a hand ball game at a fronton. Whether you have a Basque surname, speak the language, or just enjoy the culture, you can be Basque if you partake in their norms.
The world awaits…discover it.